Illustrations by Lila Volkas (click on any image to view larger versions and activate slideshow)
Last summer, as my daughter Lila unpacked on her return from another year of college in Canada and a stint WWOOFING on an organic farm, she plucked from her backpack a large Ziplock bag encasing a strange, slimy, dripping pancake and held it up to my face, declaring proudly, “Look at my baby!”
I admit I recoiled with a gasp, as I managed, “What is that thing?”
“Oh, Mom, “ sighed Lila, like it was so obvious, “That’s my Kombucha SCOBY!”
Since I was uninitiated to the delights of the fermented, fizzy drink with a long history and the recent surge in popularity, Lila was eager to share her discovery from the organic farm of how easy (and cheap) it is to make your own kombucha with only water, tea and sugar. As we searched our shelves for a suitable jar and a cotton cloth, she raved about the health benefits (still in dispute) and how drinking some kombucha every day made her feel so good.
After brewing a gallon of tea, adding a cup of sugar and letting it cool completely, I watched Lila pour the sweetened tea into our largest mason jar and gently place the slippery SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) to float on top of the liquid. She covered the mouth of the jar with a cotton dishcloth and secured with a rubber band. “Now we just have to wait for seven days.” Decanting the bubbling golden brew a week later, I sipped the earthy tang of a zingy, apple cider. Maybe I’m suggestible, but after a small glass, I felt re-energized.
A few weeks later, as Lila was packing for her job as an art instructor at a summer camp in Yosemite, she broke the news, “You’re going to have to take care of my SCOBYs while I’m gone for two months and whatever you do, don’t let them die!” As I surveyed the brood of SCOBYs (which, like rabbits, had multiplied and now occupied all of our glass pitchers) I was suddenly flooded with memories of the traumatic summer when I was nine and volunteered to feed my neighbor’s fish, while they were on vacation. One morning, to my horror, I discovered dead fishies floating atop a tank of black water. I don’t think my neighbors spoke to me again.
Luckily, Lila left me with detailed drawings and instructions and all went well during her absence. Seems my maternal instincts are still intact.
When she returned home, however, I pointed out a few worrisome threads hanging off the bottom of a SCOBY, but Lila reassured me they were a normal part of the yeast and not mold.
Last September, as Lila packed to go back to school, she offered me my own SCOBY, but I declined, because of impending trips away from home. (I know now could have set up a SCOBY hotel)
Meanwhile back at UBC in Vancouver, Lila became active in Sprouts, their volunteer-run, organic café and gave kombucha making workshops to curious Canadians, including lists of do’s and don’ts (e.g., only clean your bottles with hot water, never use soap). She had intentionally expanded her SCOBY family in the intervening months so she could give each of the 30 attendees their own baby SCOBY to take home.
While she was away at school, I missed the bubbly, revitalizing beverage and tried store-bought kombucha but nothing hit the spot like Lila’s brew.
Lila is back for the summer now and our fridge is once more full of her concoctions, this time, flavored with ginger and lemon or blueberries and chia seeds. Soon she’ll be leaving for her summer camp job and I’ll be in charge of the little rascals again. This time, I’m ready. Instead of regarding the jellyfish-like blobs with distaste, I now welcome them as a part of the family who inhabits half our pantry. And I thank my daughter for her willingness to let me mother her “kids.”